Wisconsin Test Scores Show Slight Bump in Math, Drop-Off in Reading

by Benjamin Yount


The latest snapshot of Wisconsin schools shows that kids are still not back to where they were before the coronavirus closed some schools for more than a year.

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction on Thursday released the scores from the Forward Exam for elementary school kids, the ACT Aspire for freshmen and sophomores, and the ACT for high school juniors.

The tests show a slight drop off in reading from the year before. The numbers show 38.26% of students were proficient in reading in the 2021 school year, compared to 38.87% in 2020. The 2021  scores are more than three points lower than the 41.42% of kids who were rated as proficient in 2018, before the coronavirus.

The scores in math were a bit better.

DPI says 40.56% of students were proficient in math in the 2021 school year, compared to 38.80% in 2020. But, again, the 2021 scores are far behind the 44.02% of kids who were proficient in math in 2018 before the coronavirus.

“Overall, results from the standardized tests showed strong signs of recovery and progress among tested Wisconsin students, as they continue to work through learning disruptions and challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to student achievement, participation in the WSAS also increased closer to pre-pandemic levels,” DPI said in its statement.

But, again, while the test participation numbers are up from 2020, they are down from before the coronavirus.

This year about 3% of students opted out of the state’s tests. That number was 13% in 2020, but just 1.5% back in 2018.

Will Flanders with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty told The Center Square the test results are not good.

“Despite claims that there are ‘strong signs of recovery,’ proficiency in reading is actually lower than last year once you account for student opt-out,” Flanders said. “Proficiency is slightly up in math, but still significantly lower than before [the coronavirus].”

Quinton Klabon, Senior Research Director with the Institute for Reforming Government said the numbers show Wisconsin kids continue to fall behind.

“Our students are not rebounding from the Evers’ administration’s school shutdowns,” Klabon said. “[Nearly] 14,000 fewer Wisconsin children can read well enough for college, a 4% drop. [Nearly] 103,000 kids across the state can’t even read at grade level. Nine Milwaukee Public Schools don’t have a single student proficient in math, and their best schools have been devastated.”

The 2021 test scores are the first “apples to apples” comparison for Wisconsin school kids since before the coronavirus. The state’s tests were canceled in the 2019-2020 school year because of the coronavirus. The 2020-2021 test results were skewed because so many students simply didn’t take the tests.

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Benjamin Yount is a contributor to The Center Square. 
Photo “Students Taking a Test” by Tima Miroshnichenko.




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